Title:
Thermoelectric container cooler
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A thermoelectric display case (10) is provided with at least one cooling tube (30) having at least one thermoelectric module (40) that cools containers (20) stored in the cooling tube (30).



Inventors:
Yu, Xiaomei (Glastonbury, CT, US)
Alahyari, Abbas A. (Manchester, CT, US)
Application Number:
11/990972
Publication Date:
06/25/2009
Filing Date:
08/25/2005
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/255
International Classes:
F25B21/02; A47F3/04; B67D7/80
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
JONES, MELVIN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Cantor Colburn LLP - Carrier (Hartford, CT, US)
Claims:
1. A refrigeration system for a display case that dispenses containers, the system comprising: at least one cooling tube having an inner volume sized for storing and dispensing the containers; and one or more thermoelectric modules connected to said at least one cooling tube, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules has a cold side in thermal communication with said inner volume for cooling the containers, wherein said one or more thermoelectric modules is a plurality of thermoelectric modules along a length of said at least one cooling tube, and wherein each of said plurality of thermoelectric modules has a cooling capacity that is not uniform along said length.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules has a warm side in thermal isolation from said inner volume of said at least one cooling tube.

3. The system of claim 1, further comprising a fan that provides air-flow in thermal communication with said warm side of said one or more thermoelectric modules.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules is spaced along a length of said at least one cooling tube to correspond to one of the containers stored therein.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein said at least one cooling tube is thermally insulated.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein an inner surface of said at least one cooling tube is thermally conductive.

7. (canceled)

8. A refrigeration system for a display case that dispenses containers, the system comprising: at least one cooling tube having an inner volume sized for storing and dispensing the containers; and one or more thermoelectric modules connected to said at least one cooling tube, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules has a cold side in thermal communication with said inner volume for cooling the containers, wherein said one or more thermoelectric modules is a plurality of thermoelectric modules along a length of said at least one cooling tube, wherein each of said plurality of thermoelectric modules has a cooling capacity that is not uniform along said length, wherein said one or more thermoelectric modules is a plurality of thermoelectric modules along a length of said at least one cooling tube, and wherein each of said plurality of thermoelectric modules has a sensor for detecting one of the containers in proximity thereto and shutting off energy thereto.

9. A refrigeration system for a display case that dispenses containers, the system comprising: at least one cooling tube having an inner volume sized for storing and dispensing the containers; and one or more thermoelectric modules connected to said at least one cooling tube, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules has a cold side in thermal communication with said inner volume for cooling the containers, wherein said one or more thermoelectric modules is a plurality of thermoelectric modules along a length of said at least one cooling tube, wherein each of said plurality of thermoelectric modules has a cooling capacity that is not uniform along said length, wherein said at least one cooling tube is a plurality of cooling tubes, and wherein at least a portion of said plurality of cooling tubes is transparent.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein said at least one cooling tube has a non-circular cross-section.

11. The system of claim 1, further comprising a support structure.

12. (canceled)

13. The display case of claim 11, further comprising a fan that provides air flow in thermal communication with said warm side of said one or more thermoelectric modules.

14. The display case of claim 11, wherein each of said one or more thermoelectric modules is spaced along a length of said at least one cooling tube to correspond to one of the containers stored therein.

15. The display case of claim 11, wherein said at least one cooling tube is thermally insulated, and wherein an inner surface of said at least one cooling tube is thermally conductive.

16. 16-20. (canceled)

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates generally to refrigerated display cases or coolers and, more particularly, to a method and apparatus for cooling in a refrigerated display case or cooler.

2. Description of the Related Art

In contemporary container display cases, chilled air is circulated about bottles or cans in the enclosed volume of the display case to cool the beverages to a desired temperature. The air is cooled by a vapor-compression system having an evaporator.

Such systems are inefficient as they require a large cooling capacity due to the volume inside of the enclosed display case. Additionally, vapor-compression systems utilizing chilled circulated air are much less efficient than conduction cooling methods.

Accordingly, there is a need for a refrigeration display case that improves the efficiency of the cooling operation of the display case. The method and apparatus of the present invention provides for efficient cooling of beverage containers or the like at a desired temperature through the use of one or more thermoelectric heat pumps or modules.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a thermoelectric container cooler with improved refrigerating efficiency.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect, a refrigeration system for a display case that dispenses containers is provided. The system comprises at least one cooling tube and one or more thermoelectric modules. The cooling tube has an inner volume sized for storing and dispensing the containers. The thermoelectric modules are connected to the cooling tube. Each of the thermoelectric modules has a cold side in thermal communication with the inner volume for cooling the containers.

In another aspect, a refrigerated display case for dispensing containers is provided which comprises a support structure, at least one cooling tube and one or more thermoelectric modules. The cooling tube is connected to the support structure and has an inner volume sized for storing and dispensing the containers. The thermoelectric modules are connected to the cooling tube. Each of the thermoelectric modules has a cold side in thermal communication with the inner volume for cooling the containers.

In yet another aspect, a method of cooling containers in a display case is provided, which comprises positioning the containers in a cooling tube having an inner volume sized for dispensing the containers from the display case, and cooling the containers through conduction by one or more thermoelectric modules that each have a cold side in thermal communication with the inner volume of the cooling tube and a warm side in thermal isolation from the inner volume.

The thermoelectric modules can have a warm side in thermal isolation from the inner volume of the cooling tubes. The system can further comprise a fan that provides air-flow in thermal communication with the warm side of the thermoelectric modules. There may be more than one fan, such as, for example, one fan per tube or one fan per thermoelectric module. Each of the thermoelectric modules may be spaced along a length of the cooling tube to correspond to one of the containers stored therein. The cooling tube can be thermally insulated. The inner surface of the cooling tube may be thermally conductive.

The thermoelectric modules can be a plurality of thermoelectric modules along a length of the cooling tube, and a cooling capacity of each of the plurality of thermoelectric modules may not be uniform along the length of the cooling tube. Each of the plurality of thermoelectric modules may have a sensor for detecting one of the containers in proximity thereto and shutting off energy to the module. At least a portion of the plurality of cooling tubes can be transparent. The method can further comprise thermally insulating the cooling tube and providing circulating air in thermal communication with the warm side of each of the modules.

The above-described and other features and advantages of the present disclosure will be appreciated and understood by those skilled in the art from the following detailed description, drawings, and appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a prior art enclosed display case utilizing circulated chilled air for cooling;

FIG. 2 is a schematic cross-sectional side view of an exemplary embodiment of a container cooler of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a schematic cross-sectional front view of the cooler of FIG. 2; and

FIG. 4 is a schematic cross-sectional perspective view of a cooling tube of the cooler of FIG. 2.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring now to FIGS. 2 and 3, an exemplary embodiment of a refrigerated display case or cooler generally referred to by reference numeral 10 is illustrated. Case 10 stores a plurality of refrigerated products, such as beverage containers, bottles or cans. In the exemplary embodiment, case 10 stores and refrigerates bottles 20. However, the present disclosure contemplates the storage and refrigeration of other such items in various types of containers, such as, for example, cans, which are capable of being dispensed or otherwise accessed. The particular support structure that defines display case 10 can be varied depending upon the particular needs of the display case, such as, for example, capacity, mobility, and/or aesthetics.

The bottles 20 are stored in an array of cooling tubes 30 that act as chutes, and the bottles can be dispensed from the cooling tubes. The size, shape and number of cooling tubes 30, as well as their configuration in display case 10, can vary with the particular needs of the display case. Such factors as sizing, mobility, aesthetics, refrigeration needs, and container capacity, as well as other factors, can be used by one of ordinary skill in the art to determine the particular size, shape and number of cooling tubes 30, and/or their configuration in display case 10. In the exemplary embodiment, the cooling tubes 30 have a circular cross-section or cylindrical-like shape that corresponds to the circular cross-section or cylindrical-like shape of the bottles 20 in order to facilitate dispensing of the bottles. The inner diameter of the cooling tubes 30 allows for movement, i.e., dispensing, of the bottles 20, while minimizing the volume therein to increase the cooling efficiency. However, the inner diameter can also be varied depending upon the particular needs of the display case 10, as well as the particular method of dispensing of the bottles 20 therein. The shape of the cross-section of the cooling tubes 30 can also be non-circular, such as, for example, for use with containers having a non-circular shape.

The loading of the cooling tubes 30 with the bottles 20 can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as, for example, through the top, back or front of the display case 10. The cooling tubes 30 can also be stacked or otherwise connected in a modular configuration to make larger or smaller coolers or display cases, or to change the dimensions or the aspect ratio of the display case 10.

Referring to FIGS. 2 through 4, each of the cooling tubes 30 has a number of thermoelectric modules 40. The thermoelectric modules 40 are embedded in, or otherwise connected to, the cooling tubes 30 so that a cold side or face 50 is facing inwardly into the inner volume of the cooling tube and a warm side or face 60 is facing away from the inner volume of the cooling tube. The cold side 50 of each of the thermoelectric modules 40 is in thermal communication with the inner volume of the cooling tube 30, while the warm side 60 is in thermal isolation from the inner volume of the cooling tube.

Through conduction, the cold side 50 of each of the thermoelectric modules 40 cools the bottles 20, which are being stored and dispensed by the cooling tubes 30. The cooling tubes 30 and thermoelectric modules 40 take advantage of the localized nature of thermoelectric refrigeration to provide for an efficient cooling system for the bottles 20. Thermoelectric coolers have an inherently small refrigeration capacity as compared to vapor-compression refrigeration systems. However, the use of the enclosed cooling tubes 30 allows the thermoelectric coolers or modules 40 to adequately cool the bottles 20 positioned therein.

The number of thermoelectric modules 40 that are used in each cooling tube 30 can be varied based upon the particular cooling needs and other factors related to the display case 10. The thermoelectric modules 40 are preferably spaced apart so that one or more of the modules line up with each bottle 20. In such a configuration, the thermoelectric modules 30 provide direct thermal contact with the bottles 20. Alternatively, the inner surface or some other inner portion of the cooling tubes 30 can be thermally conductive so as to increase cooling and allow for less than one thermoelectric module 40 per bottle 20. The particular number of thermoelectric modules 40, as well as the structure or method of making the inner surface or inner portion of the cooling tubes 30 thermally conductive, can be varied based upon the particular cooling needs and other factors related to the display case 10.

The particular type, including materials, dimensions and/or shape, of the thermoelectric modules 40 that are utilized can vary according to the particular needs of the display case 10. Preferably, the dimensions and shape of the cold side 50 and the warm side 60 of the thermoelectric modules 40 maximize thermal communication or contact, e.g., surface area, between the bottles 20 and the cold side of the modules, as well as between the air outside of the cooling tube 30 and the warm side of the modules. Additionally, the structure, configuration and/or method for providing energy to the thermoelectric modules 40 so as to provide thermoelectric cooling to the bottles 20 via the cold side 50 of the thermoelectric module can be varied according to the particular needs of the display case 10.

Other than the thermally conductive portions described above for the cooling tubes 30, the tubes are preferably thermally insulated to reduce the thermal load. The method and structure used to thermally insulate the remainder of the cooling tubes 30 can be varied based upon the particular cooling needs and other factors related to the display case 10. The cooling tubes 30 can also be all or partially transparent for aesthetics, maintenance and/or other reasons.

To further improve the cooling efficiency, one or more fans 70 (only one of which is shown) circulate air about the exterior or outer surface of the cooling tubes 30 so as to provide air-flow in fluid communication with the warm side 60 of the thermoelectric modules 40. The air can then be directed outside of the display case 10, such as through the top or back of the display case, so as to remove the heat from the thermoelectric module 40. The number and positioning of the fans 70, as well as the aerodynamics or method of circulating the air about the exterior or outer surface of the cooling tubes 30, can be varied based upon the particular cooling needs and other factors related to the thermoelectric modules 40 of the display case 10, such as, for example, having one fan per cooling tube or one fan per thermoelectric module.

The cooling capacity of the thermoelectric modules 40 along the cooling tubes 30 does not need to be uniform, and can be adjusted to improve the efficiency in dispensing bottles 20 at the desired temperature, such as, for example, providing more cooling to bottles that are closer to being dispensed, i.e., further downstream along the cooling tube. The particular cooling capacity for each of the thermoelectric modules 40 is based upon the particular cooling and dispensing needs of the display case 10. A sensor or other device or method can be used to detect the presence of a bottle 20 with respect to one or more corresponding thermoelectric modules 40, and can be used to shut-off the particular thermoelectric modules in order to save energy. The sensing can be done in a variety of ways, such as, for example, by weight, proximity or mechanical switch.

Lighting for the display case 10 can be provided and is preferably limited to the front merchandise (e.g., bottles 20 that will soon be dispensed) in order to reduce heat. Additionally, air circulation may be provided to the front merchandise to limit condensation on the bottles 20. It has been found that one to two watts of cooling per bottle 20 provides sufficient pull-down cooling capacity due to the efficiency of conduction cooling. This is a dramatic increase in efficiency as compared to contemporary vapor-compression chilled air coolers.

While the instant disclosure has been described with reference to one or more exemplary embodiments, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes may be made and equivalents may be substituted for elements thereof without departing from the scope thereof. In addition, many modifications may be made to adapt a particular situation or material to the teachings of the disclosure without departing from the scope thereof. Therefore, it is intended that the disclosure not be limited to the particular embodiment(s) disclosed as the best mode contemplated for carrying out this invention, but that the invention will include all embodiments falling within the scope of the appended claims.